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Despite the long recognized importance and well-documented impact of drinking patterns on health and safety, college student drinking patterns are understudied. This study used a daily-level, academic-year-long, multisite sample to identify subpopulations of college student drinking patterns and to describe how these groups differ from one another before, during, and after their first year of college.


wo cohorts of first-year college students (n = 588; 59% female) reported daily drinking on a biweekly basis using web-based surveys and completed surveys before and after their first year of college.


Cluster analyses based on time series analysis estimates of within-person drinking differences (per weekday, semester, first 6 weeks) and other descriptors of day-to-day drinking identified five drinking patterns: two low (47% and 6%), two medium (24% and 15%), and one high (8%) drinking cluster. Multinomial logistic regression analyses examined cluster differences in pre-college characteristics (i.e., demographics, alcohol outcome expectancies, alcohol problems, depression, other substance use) and first-year college experiences (i.e., academic engagement, alcohol consequences, risky drinking practices, alcohol problems, drinking during academic breaks). Low-drinking students appeared to form a relatively homogeneous group, whereas two distinct patterns were found for medium-drinking students with different weekend and Thursday drinking rates. The Thursday drinking cluster showed lower academic engagement and greater participation in risky drinking practices.


These findings highlight quantitative and qualitative differences in day-to-day drinking patterns and suggest a link between motivational differences and drinking patterns, which may be addressed in developing tailored interventional strategies.